Our Cooperative Response to COVID-19 with Brian Heithoff, CEO of High West Energy
Brian Heithoff, CEO of High West Energy, sits down with our host, Bazi Kanani, to discuss how his cooperative has responded to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Across our cooperative family, amazing work is being done by our members as business practices have piloted in an effort to tackle challenges related to COVID-19. As part of this series, Bazi Kanani interviews CEOs from our member cooperatives and public power districts to discuss how they are responding during this difficult time.
High West Energy knows first-hand of the impacts of COVID-19. Brian Heithoff explains the safety precautions his cooperative enacted to protect their employees and members. He also discusses what it's like to operate under new conditions, like the first time they're closed the front doors in 80 years of operation, while continuing to support their community.
To learn more about what High West Energy is doing in their communities, watch the video below.
Read the Interview Transcript Here
"We're trying to do what we can. Commitment to community is one of the cooperative principles and it's one that we take very seriously." - Brian Heithoff
Bazi: During this unprecedented pandemic, employees of High West Energy pull through tough times after COVID-19 arrives at their headquarters in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming. This cooperative is putting safety first in their response to make sure vital electricity is something their members can count on.
Joining this video call is Brian Heithoff. He is CEO of High West Energy and Brian, you have actually experienced the importance of preparing for the COVID virus.
Brian: Well, we've taken a number of precautions, like many companies and cooperatives have done over the course of the last couple of months. In our case, I think, initially there was some sense that we were overreacting because when we decided to split crews and split our office and work from home and things like that, there were only about 20 cases of COVID-19 in the entire state. Although it did prove to be the right decision because shortly after announcing these changes, we had three employees who had family members come in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.
There were initially some fear and trepidation by many employees as they were trying to figure out how much contact they had with the three and if they had contact at all. That was in late March and since that time, we've had three additional incidents involving four employees. Two of them were when an employee was symptomatic of COVID-19. The other incident, two employees who happened toe on the volunteer fire department here in Pine Bluffs, had close contact with a person exposed to COVID-19.
The separation and precautions that we implemented have been a godsend in terms of minimizing the changes of exposure of our employees, as well as maintaining close to full force as we can. And, having said that, we did lose, at one time or another during those four incidences, close to 35 percent of our workforce. But as of right now, we're back to full steam ahead and everyone's healthy.
Bazi: And you mentioned there closing your lobby doors and I understand that that was something that was just especially hard for you and your employees.
Brian: It was very hard and we struggled with that decision. One of our core values that we have a reputation for is to be friendly and easy to do business with, so closing our lobby seemed contrary to that. It's the first time in our 80 years of being in existence that we've probably had to close our front doors. Yet, the prevailing thought was that in order for us to carry out our mission of providing safe, reliable and competitively priced energy and other services, we needed to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. Thankfully, when we remodeled our headquarters a few years ago, we added a drive-up window, which has been used more than ever in the last month or so.
Bazi: And Brian, despite the challenges to your operations from having the virus actually in your area and affecting your employees, you still had managed to find some other ways to support your community.
Brian: Well, we're trying to do what we can. Commitment to community is one of the cooperative principles and it's one that we take very seriously. We have seen a huge increase in the number of applications to our Operation Round Up fund. This fund is set up where we primarily fund individual grant applications and with the job losses and the economy being what it is, we've just seen a lot higher influx of people in need and as a result, we've had to reduce the amount we normally provide out of the fund, so that we can preserve the fund so that it can go further.
Bazi: Brian Heithoff is CEO of High West Energy. Thanks for your time today, Brian.
Brian: Thank you, Bazi.
COVID-19 Community Response
As a family of electric cooperatives and public power districts, our distribution members reach consumers at the end of the line, many of whom have been directly impacted by COVID-19. To learn about our response, how our members are responding and the amazing work being done in communities across the West, watch our videos and read the articles here.
Tri-State is a not-for-profit cooperative of 46 members, including 43 member utility electric distribution cooperatives and public power districts in four states, that together deliver reliable, affordable and responsible power to more than a million electricity consumers across nearly 200,000 square miles of the West. For more information about Tri-State and our Responsible Energy Plan, visit www.tristate.coop.